During the Alter Rebbe’s 53 day imprisonment in the Peter-Paul Fortress in Czarist Russia, he was visited by various government officials, including the Minister of Culture. The Minister, a wise and noble man, was well versed in all matters relating to the Torah, and had come to play a round of “Stump the Rabbi” with the Alter Rebbe. He posed the following question: “In the story of Genesis, after Adam and Eve had committed the sin of eating the forbidden fruit, G-d calls out to Adam and asks him ‘Adam, where are you?’ How could He ask such a question? Didn’t He know where Adam was? Such an all knowing G-d must have been aware of Adam’s location.”
The Alter Rebbe answered the question with an answer given by Rashi (Torah Commentator): “G-d could have very well opened the topic of conversation by accusing Adam of committing the sin. But, He wanted to the open the conversation in a proper manner.”
The Minister scoffed at this answer. “This answer does not satisfy me,” he replied. “I was already aware of this answer, and it does not settle the question.”
The Alter Rebbe turned to the Minister and asked him “Do you believe in the eternity of the Torah?”
The Minister responded positively.
The Alter Rebbe continued: “When G-d approaches a man of a certain age (at which point he gave the age of the Minister, which he had not been told) and asks them ‘Where are you?’ He is not asking where you are in a physical state, that He can see clearly. What He wants to know is where you stand in a spiritual state. He wants to know what you have accomplished. What have you done with your life, and what do you expect to continue doing?”
Ayeka, where are you?
This question is one that every person should ask themselves daily. Where do I stand? What have I achieved? What have been my successes, as well as my failures? Stop and ask yourself: Am I on the path that I want to be on? Am I going the right way?
We recently celebrated the holiday of Yud Tes Kislev, the “New Year of Chassidut.” On Yud Tes Kislev in 1798, The Alter Rebbe, founder of the Chabad movement, and author of the Tanya, was vindicated in a trial held by Czarist Government, after spending approximately eight weeks in prison on suspicion of plotting against the Czar. The Alter Rebbe had a long standing foundation which would send money to settlers in Israel to help fund their learning. At the time, Israel was under Turkish rule, and the Czarist government believed that the Alter Rebbe was secretly attempting to over throw the Czar and take over Russia.
As a child, I was always taught that the Rebbe was imprisoned for spreading Yiddishkiet around Russia. I only learned the other explanation recently and I found it fascinating. The Alter Rebbe did regard this imprisonment as a direct relation to what was occurring in the higher world, so I understand where the original explanation came from. The imprisonment on false accounts mirrored the heavenly indictment against his revelation of the most secret parts of the Torah. His release was a sign that the turmoil in heaven had been resolved, and that he was free to spread the inner workings and secrets of the Torah to the world. This is why the 19 of Kislev is marked as the birth of Chassidism. On this day, the secrets emerged and gave new life and new meaning to the way Torah is taught today, not only to Chassidim, but to Jews around the world.
Now, the obvious question that I must pose is: Ayeka? Where I am? At the parting moments of this holy day, where do I find myself? In which state do I behold my spiritual work? Have I accomplished much? Is there much more to accomplish? What tools are necessary for my success to become a reality, both in matters of spirituality as well as in manners of physicality?
I am reminded now of my first Yud Tes Kislev as a true Chosid. I was fourteen, experiencing my first taste of the Chabad school system. After an entire school career in public school, I decided it was time for a change, and asked my parents to move me into the local Chabad day school. They say beginnings are difficult. I did not know the true meaning of that phrase until then. I was surrounded by people who had been part of the system their entire lives, and could not understand what I was doing there. I was like an outsider. They had knowledge about Chassidus that I was dying to know, if only they would be willing to share it with me. True, the first six months spent trying to rap my head around Tanya was incredibly difficult and at times, painful. Though it is accounted as a book with which to teach the “people” I don’t think my teachers realized how difficult it would be to explain it to someone from the outside looking in. They had grown accustomed to teaching it to students who were raised learning this information. It was like learning to speak in a foreign language, when the teacher herself was not fully versed in the knowledge it took to teacher it.
Eventually, I caught on. With the help of many a tutors and friends who were willing to listen to my incessant questioning and push me past the difficult words that I could not understand, I made it through a year where we learned thirteen chapters. It was a great accomplishment, one that I hold very dear to me.
At the time, Yud Tes Kislev was just another day on the Jewish calendar. Though I had been in a Chabad environment for most of my life, for some reason, that was the day they skipped over, or, at least, that was one they never told me about. So, when the topic of the Yud Tes Kislev celebration came up in school, I was stumped. What was the big deal about celebrating a Rebbe’s release from prison, at least, any differently than we celebrate the release of any other Rebbe?
But, the day itself held so much more weight than just the “simple” fact that the leader of the Jewish community at the time had been accused of treason and imprisoned on false accounts. It was on this day that heaven was brought down to earth, in ways that continue to effect the entire Jewish population. The birth of Chabad, the particular Chassidic movement that The Alter Rebbe was the founder of, has spread far and wide and has brought G-dliness and a sense of purpose to the furthest, deepest corners of the world. It’s not just about the printing of a book (that has changed the lives of millions, and has been the guideline of the Chassidic way of life since it’s publication), it’s about the face of the world taking a drastic change in an incredibly positive direction.
So, I return to my original question: Ayeka? Where are you? Just as a person takes the time to reflect on Rosh Hashana, (at the head of the year), about the life they lead and the changes to be made, so too on Yud Tes Kislev one should take the time to reflect about life they head according to the path of Chassidus.
When the question was asked to me the first time, I could not think of an answer. I knew where I was physically, but spiritually? As spiritual as I was, I had never thought to tap into such a meditative thought. I couldn’t rap my head around the fact that G-d wanted to know how I was doing. So, I asked myself: How was I doing?
The obvious answer was that I wasn’t doing well. At least, that’s how it feels when I look back on it now. But, considering where I was coming from and how much I had learned in such a short amount of time, one could say that I was on the right track.
I have not yet decided what my Yud Tes Kislev hachlata (resolution) should be. I might end up taking on one hachlata for Yud Tes Kislev and my birthday since they are a week apart. But, one things for sure: The work is never done.
Where do you find yourself when you pose the question of Ayeka?